While it does not come to any earth shattering conclusions, Eleanor Laise penned a primer on the mutual fund vs. ETF debate for the Wall Street Journal. Unlike most pieces it is relatively even-handed in its approach.

Martin Fridson in Barron’s pens a generally favorable review of David Swensen’s new book, Unconventional Success: A Fundamental Approach to Personal Investment. Swensen recommends for individual investors a disciplined, low-cost, index-based investment strategy. A logical conclusion is that ETFs would be perfect instruments to implement this strategy, but:

Exchange-traded funds are suitable for Swensen’s sensible investors. If properly structured, he says, ETFs provide low-cost, tax-efficient diversification. Unfortunately, laments Swensen, dramatic growth “has already attracted the usual Wall Street lowlifes, who have fashioned ways to increase their take.” Only about 10% of ETFs currently satisfy his criteria as acceptable investments.

Swensen’s disdain for most mutual fund complexes and their managers are well founded. There is little evidence that mutual fund managers are able to outperform the market after fees and expenses. One manager who has been able to outperform the market, with a unique, value-based approach, is Martin Whitman. Jack Willoughby in Barron’s pens a detailed, profile of the veteran manager with a focus on his investment approach, as opposed to the usual recital of fund picks. It is worth a read.

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